Guns and Butter The Guard

FOR FIVE months after a young man enters the National Guard, he is trained to kill the enemy. He is instructed along with members of the regular army, many of whom will end up fighting in the hot and hostile jungles of Southeast Asia.

The National Guardsman knows from the day his training begins that his enemy is not in the foreign rice-paddies, but on the blacktop of American streets. Yet the soldier in America understands as little about his opponent in the street as the soldiers in Vietnam know about the Viet Cong. Knowledge of the demonstrators can be gained in part by reading the newspapers; but there is more significantly, an attitude instilled in Guardsmen through the instruction they receive from the army.

The instructors in the National Guard are officers. The officers are mostly working-class men, who have little direct contact with street demonstrators. In fact, the lab technicians, shipyard workers and garbage men, who make up the officer corps of the Guard units are part of the middle American class that finds demonstrators as destructive of American society as Communists. They resent students, who they feel make up the mass of street protestors. In their instructions about riots they clearly display their dislike, and thus encourage a dangerous sentiment among the men.

The other day, at a regular monthly drill, a vote was taken of the number of men in one unit who felt that ammunition should not be issued for riot duty in Cambridge. Out of over one hundred and twenty-five men, two hands were raised. From the back of the room, one sergeant called out in reference to my raised hand, "We have an SDSer back here." No one laughed. The demonstrators used violence and had guns, the officers believed, and so the Guardsmen should not be deprived of their weapons.

But in Massachusetts National Guardsmen are not given ammunition in the course of normal riot duty. The officers instruct them to use their bayonets if they are attacked. The lieutenant who supervises one unit told his men, "If a demonstrator tries to take you gun, stab him. Stab em, that's right, and when they see several of their buddies lying in the street severely wounded, they'll get the message." Only minutes before the same officer had told his men, "The most effective place to insert the bayonet is in the neck or crotch; these areas are soft and vulnerable; if you don't kill your man, you'll surely disable him." The bayonet instruction was oriented toward the battlefield, but no one made the distinction between one battlefield and another.

NO ONE, not even this lieutenant is anxious to kill students. But their attitudes display a distinct callousness to the fact that students can be hurt, and killed, by armed forces of law and order. When asked whether he had seen the pictures in Life of the Kent State incident and read the story, one officer replied, "I don't look at that magazine, they're a bunch of communists." Questioned further as to whether he thought the Guard had acted intelligently at Kent, the officer professed not to know the "facts."

The sentiments of this officer were made clearer at a subsequent meeting. At that time he raised his hand to signal two minutes to an impatient fellow officer. When some of his men misunderstood the signal and thought he was giving the peace sign, he turned on them quickly. "This is my sign," he said, holding up three fingers. "You know what it means? Fuck Peace. You got it. Fuck Peace; this world ain't ready for peace yet."

Everyone wonders whether there will be another Kent State. The White House, in hopes of avoiding another such "inevitable tragedy," has issued orders to the Guard, requesting that ammunition not be issued on regular riot duty, except to certain specified marksmen who are instructed to fire only at snipers. But situations where "tired and frightened" men are faced by overtly hostile, rock-wielding demonstrators, sometimes grow out of control. Bayonets are also fatal weapons.

Whether there will be a Kent State somewhere else is a question that probably can not be answered in ways that would appear sensible in the White House. For the attitude of the officers, as much as the actions of the demonstrators, probably contributes to a Kent State. Men react as they are taught to react.

Recently, as you will notice in the Boston subway cars, there has been an effort to enlist war veterans in the Guard for one year. The reasoning is that these men can best provide instruction for the Guard's men in the use of their weapons. But these men will also harbor a severe hostility toward war protestors and flag burning demonstrators. That bias will be part of their instruction also. It will contribute, more than anything the Vice-President says, to heating up the tempers in the streets this summer. What can result is not predictable.

The Guard was conceived as an arm of the army. They are trained in battlefield combat, and only partially in keeping order in the streets. Their instruction comes from men who are biased against the young and the black, who are the citizens and the enemy that they will face in the streets. Their bias encourages overreaction in riot situations. And they, unlike the police who they play backstop for, are armed with weapons that make overreaction a fatal act.

Until someone realizes the situation, and either rearms the Guards with appropriate weapons, or trains them so that they can face rioters with some degree of rational understanding, the potential for another Kent State will exist. The blood will surely flow again across the hot pavement.